The debate continues about the procedure's risk to a woman's sanity.
A story last week headlined “Royal College Warns Abortions Can Lead to Mental Illness” got Salon internal e-mail servers working overtime deep into a Sunday night. In the wake of “new” studies suggesting that abortions increase the risk of mental illness, Britain’s Royal College suggested that women not be allowed to have abortions without getting counseling on the risk to their mental health.
Just thinking about how such a law would play into the tactics of pro-life clinics in America gives me the heebie-jeebies. (“I’m OK, I don’t need counseling”/ “You’re not OK — let us help you deal with your inner demons — er, doubts.”)
On the other hand, having just come from a conversation with a friend who called her abortion the most “horrible, traumatic experience” of her life, I was curious about what new research might have changed these doctors’ minds.
The debate around the mental health effects of abortion is an old and inconclusive one. Back in the 1980s Reagan directed Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to find evidence that abortion causes mental problems, and he did his durndest, but in the end he said that none of the studies available were conclusive and that those that did find a link between mental illness and abortion didn’t control for preexisting conditions that cause women to want abortions in the first place — e.g., sexual abuse, poverty, domestic violence, etc. For a great summary of this debate, read this article from the Guttmacher Policy Review.
The first question, of course, is how does having an abortion compare with the alternatives: a) having an unwanted baby or b) giving that baby up for adoption? As Broadsheet’s Katharine Mieszkowski put it: “Is it glib to point out that carrying a pregnancy to term can also lead to mental illness? It’s called postpartum depression. There’s also the more serious postpartum psychosis. According to Dr. Sears, postpartum depression occurs in 10 to 15 percent of all deliveries. Among adolescent new mothers the number jumps to 30 percent. Another recent study found that poor women are more likely to suffer from postpartum depression.”
Post-adoption trauma is also relatively well documented. One study published in the British Journal of Social Work in 1996 found the “long-term implications of relinquishment are severe,” particularly in relation to mental health. A 1999 review of previous studies found that “the relinquishing mother is at risk for long-term physical, psychologic, and social repercussions” from “chronic unresolved grief.”
I would add to this another set of comparisons: How does having an abortion compare with some other reproductively oriented medical procedures (C-sections, hysterectomies and post-miscarriage D&C procedures) that depress the hell out of many women? Each of these procedures often carries emotional baggage: self-doubt, lingering regret, anxiety about going through another similar procedure again. My friend called the procedure traumatic because a) it hurt, b) the medical staff didn’t prepare her for the potential pain and didn’t offer any emotional support, and c) her boyfriend wasn’t with her. I couldn’t help flashing on my first C-section. It was bad enough to have a physically painful, traumatizing medical procedure that doctors didn’t prepare me for, but I got what I wanted: a healthy baby. Having a medical team stab around in my nether regions only to then walk away empty-handed might trigger even more heartache.
The “new” study, cited by the Royal College and published in 2006 by the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, found a link between abortion and later problems with depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviors and substance abuse disorders. But like so many previous studies, this one doesn’t control for preexisting mental health problems or sexual abuse. More important, the control group consisted of all young women who had babies, not those who had babies as a result of unintended pregnancies. Another more recent study found that young women who had abortions had better educational outcomes than their peers who chose to have babies of unintended pregnancies.
Maybe the hard truth is that getting knocked up with a baby you don’t want isn’t an easy problem to escape, no matter which path you choose. But until science finds that abortions are worse than the alternative, I’ll advocate for giving women the right to get out of the jungle any way they want.
Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District. More Carol Lloyd.
More Related Stories
- Developers evict historic women's shelter to build luxury hotel
- Kaitlyn Hunt refuses plea offer, will go to court over high school relationship
- The secrets of cicada survival
- Nobody "needs" to rape
- Catholic Church in market for more exorcists
- Report: Nearly a quarter of all Americans struggle to afford food
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- This is what Guy Fieri looks like as a balloon
- Boy Scouts to members: Just don't be a gay adult
- Anonymous rallies behind Kaitlyn Hunt
- Mistrial in penalty phase of Arias case
- My text blew up in my face
- Boy Scouts end ban on openly gay boys
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- Billionaire hedge funder: Babies, breast-feeding "kill" focus, keep women from succeeding
- "Bookless library" set to open in Texas
- Man arrested for sending Craigslist sex party to neighbor's house
- Greek yogurt, toxic waste hazard?
- Glenn Beck: CNN interview with atheist tornado survivor was a setup!
- Incoming BBC news director on journalism gender gap: "We can do better"
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11